\ˈdrift \

Definition of drift 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the act of driving something along

b : the flow or the velocity of the current of a river or ocean stream

2 : something driven, propelled, or urged along or drawn together in a clump by or as if by a natural agency: such as

a : wind-driven snow, rain, cloud, dust, or smoke usually at or near the ground surface

b(1) : a mass of matter (such as sand) deposited together by or as if by wind or water

(2) : a helter-skelter accumulation

c : drove, flock

d : something (such as driftwood) washed ashore

e : rock debris deposited by natural agents specifically : a deposit of clay, sand, gravel, and boulders transported by a glacier or by running water from a glacier

3a : a general underlying design or tendency perceiving the drift of the government's policies

b : the underlying meaning, import, or purport of what is spoken or written the drift of a conversation

4 : something (such as a tool) driven down upon or forced into a body

5 : the motion or action of drifting especially spatially and usually under external influence: such as

a : the lateral motion of an aircraft due to air currents

b : an easy moderate more or less steady flow or sweep along a spatial course

c : a gradual shift in attitude, opinion, or position

d : an aimless course especially : a forgoing of any attempt at direction or control

e : a deviation from a true reproduction, representation, or reading especially : a gradual change in the zero reading of an instrument or in any quantitative characteristic that is supposed to remain constant

6a : a nearly horizontal mine passageway driven on or parallel to the course of a vein or rock stratum

b : a small crosscut in a mine connecting two larger tunnels

7a : an assumed trend toward a general change in the structure of a language over a period of time

b : genetic drift

8 : a grouping of similar flowers planted in an elongated mass



Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1a : to become driven or carried along (as by a current of water, wind, or air) a balloon drifting in the wind

b : to move or float smoothly and effortlessly

2a : to move along a line of least resistance

b : to move in a random or casual way

c : to become carried along subject to no guidance or control the talk drifted from topic to topic

3a : to accumulate in a mass or become piled up in heaps by wind or water drifting snow

b : to become covered with a drift

4 : to vary or deviate from a set course or adjustment

transitive verb

1a : to cause to be driven in a current

b Western US : to drive (livestock) slowly especially to allow grazing

2a : to pile in heaps

b : to cover with drifts

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Other Words from drift


drifty \ ˈdrif-​tē \ adjective


driftingly \ ˈdrif-​tiŋ-​lē \ adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for drift


tendency, trend, drift, tenor, current mean movement in a particular direction. tendency implies an inclination sometimes amounting to an impelling force. a general tendency toward inflation trend applies to the general direction maintained by a winding or irregular course. the long-term trend of the stock market is upward drift may apply to a tendency determined by external forces the drift of the population away from large cities or it may apply to an underlying or obscure trend of meaning or discourse. got the drift of her argument tenor stresses a clearly perceptible direction and a continuous, undeviating course. the tenor of the times current implies a clearly defined but not necessarily unalterable course. an encounter that changed the current of my life

Examples of drift in a Sentence


the slow drift of the clouds As she got older, you could observe a drift in her writing towards more serious subjects. the government's drift towards a centralization of power


The boat slowly drifted out to sea. The clouds drifted across the sky. The snow drifted against the side of the house. Drifting snow covered most of the car. The party guests drifted from room to room, eating and mingling. Her eyes drifted across the crowd. The conversation drifted from topic to topic. My thoughts drifted back to the time when we first met. After he left the army he just drifted for a few years. She drifted from job to job.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

He’d snuck out of his bed while a boy named James was wailing and weeping loud enough to make the whirlybird drift over to him with its sleep-inducing syringe. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "A transgender girl rises up against alien invaders in Rich Larson’s novel Annex," 8 July 2018 The Skyhook function also allows the boat to hold heading but drift with the current; or the other way, stay in position but swing freely in heading. Dan Neil, WSJ, "Skip the Seasickness: How Boats Are Getting More Tech-Savvy," 28 June 2018 Erdogan’s anti-Western drift recently has raised alarms among Turkey’s putative allies, with potentially grave consequences for cooperation within NATO, security in Iraq and Syria, and control of immigration flows into Europe. New York Times, BostonGlobe.com, "Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims victory in pivotal Turkish election," 24 June 2018 China wants to make sure North Korea doesn’t drift too far from its historical ties — and Pyongyang seems determined to send a positive message to Beijing, a critical partner. Don Lee, latimes.com, "With latest China visit, North Korea's Kim can again play statesman and reassure Beijing he's an ally," 19 June 2018 Nearer the equator, early elephants and antelope roamed Arabia’s grassy, wet interior, while North Africa was lushly forested where Saharan sand dunes drift today. Howard Lee, Ars Technica, "What happened last time it was as warm as it’s going to get later this century?," 18 June 2018 Saidi has since written two more plays on similar themes, forming a trilogy that carries a serious message: that decades of bad government policies and neglect of Europe’s minorities has led to perilous drift and ever more dangerous radicalism. Time, "A Tale of Three Jihadists Puts the Fight Against Extremism Onstage," 14 June 2018 The big ice mountains didn't touch this part of the state, leaving behind a hillier topography and not leaving behind glacial drift (rocks and other sediment) and the lakes that dot the rest of Wisconsin. Chelsey Lewis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Paddling the Pecatonica through the Driftless Region," 24 May 2018 Look for drift-and-cast fishing with the popular small spinner rigs, also called mayfly rigs or weapon rigs, all tipped with a chunk of nightcrawler, to begin dominating the action. cleveland.com, "Fishing Report for May 11: Western Lake Erie walleye fishing drawing crowds," 11 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

As the man drifted into unconsciousness, one EMT asked how much ketamine had been injected. Michael Harriot, The Root, "Minneapolis Cops Secretly Used 'Date Rape Drug' on Suspects for Years: Report," 18 June 2018 While their musical peers from their generation either quietly faded away or drifted into irrelevance, the blue-eyed-soul singer-songwriters became even more popular despite not releasing an album in 16 years. Ken Capobianco, BostonGlobe.com, "John Oates on pop music longevity — and never being out of touch," 6 June 2018 The service forecasts occasional showers to bring a half-inch to 1 1/2 inches of rain, as a low-pressure zone drifts into the Atlantic Ocean. baltimoresun.com, "Maryland weather: Flood watch in effect for entire region Sunday," 3 June 2018 But gold also occurs as placer: raw gold that has eroded from the veins and drifted into the dirt. Genesee Keevil, Popular Mechanics, "The Rush: What the World's Greatest Gold Prospector Knows," 17 May 2018 After nearly 16 months on the job, or jobs, Kushner has delivered little and mostly drifted into the background of Trump's chaotic operation. Gregory Krieg, CNN, "You had one job, Jared Kushner. Actually, you had many.," 14 May 2018 The Port of San Francisco presented Pennington with a marine lien against the boat for $5,409 in unpaid tariffs going back to mid-April, when the boat broke free of its anchor and drifted into the Hyde Street Pier. Sam Whiting, San Francisco Chronicle, "Rogue yachtsman in trouble again for alleged threats at Aquatic Park," 9 May 2018 Business leaders in Britain who run companies that make airplanes and automobiles are clamoring for answers and warning May that her Brexit is drifting toward the rocks. Karla Adam, Washington Post, "Boris Johnson and ‘Brexit minister’ resign, leaving Theresa May’s government in disarray," 9 July 2018 Mission Bay was a vast quilt of campers, sun umbrellas, picnickers, water skiers, sail boaters, bicyclists, joggers and Frisbee tossers — the smell of charcoal grills drifted onto Interstate 5. sandiegouniontribune.com, "July 5, 1976: San Diego celebrates U.S. Bicentennial," 5 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'drift.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of drift


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1600, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for drift


Middle English; akin to Old English drīfan to drive — more at drive

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Statistics for drift

Last Updated

5 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for drift

The first known use of drift was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for drift



English Language Learners Definition of drift

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a slow and gradual movement or change from one place, condition, etc., to another

: a large pile of snow or sand that has been blown by the wind

: the general or basic meaning of something said or written



English Language Learners Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

: to move slowly on water, wind, etc.

of snow or sand : to form a pile by being blown by the wind : to form a drift

: to move smoothly or easily in a way that is not planned or guided


\ˈdrift \

Kids Definition of drift

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the slow movement of something carried by wind or water

2 : a pile of something that has been blown by the wind a drift of snow

3 : a course something appears to be taking the drift of the conversation

4 : the meaning of something said or implied I don't get your drift.


drifted; drifting

Kids Definition of drift (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to move slowly on wind or water

2 : to be piled up by wind or water drifting sand

3 : to move along or change without effort or purpose She drifts from job to job. He drifted in and out of sleep.

Other Words from drift

drifter noun


\ˈdrift \

Medical Definition of drift 

1 : movement of a tooth in the dental arch

Other Words from drift

drift intransitive verb

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Comments on drift

What made you want to look up drift? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


obstinately defiant of authority

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